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Fish Alleviates Women's Anxiety
Higher intakes of seafood source omega-3s appear to ease anxiety in women 01/20/2014 Craig Weatherby
Women suffer higher rates of anxiety and depression … and hormones may play a role.
Another factor could be women's comparatively greater constraints and challenges versus men, even in developed countries.
But the standard American diet's sickening “omega imbalance” – too few seafood-source omega-3s and too many omega-6s from cheap vegetable oils – appears to promote depression and anxiety.
Indeed, two recent population studies linked higher omega-3 intakes to reduced depression risk among women, while higher omega-3/6 ratios also helped … see “Omega-3s May Aid Women's Mood” and “Women's Depression Tied to Junky Diets”.
Anxiety and depression often go together, and appear to share some biological roots in the brain.
As the American Psychiatric Association concluded in 2006, most of the limited evidence suggests that omega-3s help prevent or alleviate depression … see “Top Psych Panel Says Omega-3s Deter Depression, Bipolar Disorder”.
But little has been known about the effects of diets higher in omega-3s – and lower in omega-6 fats – on anxiety.
Last summer witnessed publication of three studies – two involving only women – that added more evidence that omega-3s may help prevent or ease anxiety.
Study #1 - Aussies link omega-3s to reduced anxiety risk in women
Australian researchers published an epidemiological study among Australian women last June.
The results showed that the women with the highest estimated intakes of omega-3s (DHA) were only half as likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder, compared with women with the lowest intakes (Jacka FN et al. 2013).
Interestingly, the association between increasing omega-3 intake and decreasing risk of anxiety was “linear”: the more DHA woman were estimated to consume, the less likely they were to suffer anxiety symptoms.
This study followed one published by the same team three years earlier, which – like the UK study described below – linked a “traditional” dietary pattern (vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains) to lower odds for major depression or anxiety disorders.
Conversely, a “western” diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer was associated with a higher risk (Jacka FN et al. 2010).
Study #2 - UK study suggests omega-3s may allay anxiety in expectant mothers
Clinical psychiatrist Joe Hibbeln, M.D., works at the U.S. NIH, and is a world-renowned leader in research on omega-3s in child, maternal, and mental health.
He and an international team examined data gathered from 9,530 mothers participating in the famed study of mother and children from the small English city of Avon.
They looked for any links between pregnant women's diet patterns and omega-3 intake, and their risk for excessive anxiety during pregnancy (Vaz Jdos S et al. 2013).
Dr. Hibbeln's team ranked the women in relation to five distinguishing dietary patterns:
  • Traditional: vegetables, red meat, poultry
  • Confectionery: chocolate, sweets, biscuits, cakes, puddings
  • Health-conscious: salad, fish, fruit, fruit juice, rice, pasta, oat/bran based breakfast cereal, beans, cheese, non-white bread
  • Processed: meat pies, sausages, burgers, fried foods, pizza, chips, white bread, eggs, baked beans
  • Vegetarian: meat substitutes, beans, nuts, herbal tea, and very little meat or poultry.
Analysis of the data on the women's diets, omega-3 intakes, and mental health led to three findings:
  • Women whose diets fit the Health-conscious and Traditional patterns most closely were less likely to report high levels of anxiety symptoms.
  • Women whose diets fit the vegetarian pattern most closely were more likely to have high levels of anxiety.
  • Women who ate no seafood were more likely to have high levels of anxiety, compared with women whose omega-3 intake from seafood averaged more than 1.5 grams per week.
As Dr. Hibblen's group concluded, “The present study provides evidence of a relationship between dietary patterns, fish intake or omega-3 intake from seafood and symptoms of anxiety in pregnancy ...” (Vaz Jdos S et al. 2013)
Study #3 - Columbia University team links low omega-3 levels to anxiety
Doctors from Columbia University's Institute of Human Nutrition conducted a study that compared depression patients' blood levels of fatty acids to their anxiety status.
The study involved 59 drug-free participants with major depressive disorder (MDD) and 62 healthy volunteers.
Among the participants diagnosed with major depression, 18 also suffered from a diagnosed anxiety disorder.
Their analysis yielded findings supportive of seafood-source omega-3s (DHA and EPA), and confirmed prior indications that excess intake of omega-6 fats from vegetable oils is harmful to mental health:
  • Depression patients had lower levels of omega-3 DHA and EPA and higher omega-6/omega-3 ratios, compared with healthy volunteers.
  • Depression patients with anxiety disorders had lower levels of omega-3 DHA and EPA and higher omega-6/omega-3 ratios, compared with the depression patients without any anxiety disorder.
  • Anxiety was the most severe among those with the lowest omega-3 DHA and EPA levels and the highest omega-6/omega-3 ratios
The biological and genetic origins of stand-alone anxiety might differ from those causing anxiety accompanying depression.
But the findings clearly warrant urgent clinical research into the effects of omega-3s and the omega-6/3 ratio for both kinds of anxiety.
Because they are not clinical trials, these three studies cannot prove that fish or fish oil are magic bullets for anxiety. But given their similarly positive outcomes, it's seems wise for women to stock up on seafood and/or omega-3 supplements.
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